Turkey Trot

July 26, 2007

I grew up in Pyatt, Arkansas, a hamlet ten miles to the west of Yellville, the county seat of Marion County. Every October, Yellville hosts, and has hosted for over 50 years, a festival called the Turkey Trot. It’s a fall event–cool air and leaves–and is typical of these small town celebrations: fair food, a parade with homemade floats and local high school marching bands. But the Turkey Trot is special, too.

What makes it special? Well, there’s a turkey calling contest where some ol’ boys ( and girls) sound just like turkeys, with and without mechanical assistance. I’d have to say that my own brother can imitate the turkey’s song pretty well. And there’s a Miss Turkey Trot contest, but I suppose that’s not so unique.

The Turkey Trot is particular and notable and strange and wonderful because small airplanes fly over Yellville’s town square and drop live turkeys onto the crowd below. You catch one, you get to keep it to do with it as you want. In my travels around, I’ve told a lot of people about the turkey drop, and many have turned bald-faced disbelief my way. Then I tell them, “Wait! That’s not all. One year, the animal rights people protested and so they decided to drop frozen turkeys instead. They were like Butterball bombs!” Even more disbelief.

Once when I was in college in New York City (so far from Pyatt), I saw a nice hipster girl wearing a tight green t-shirt that read “Turkey Trot, Yellville, Arkansas.” Normally bashful around girls, I ran right over to her and gushed, “You’ve been to the Turkey Trot?!” She looked at me with confusion and maybe a little fear then remembered her t-shirt. She smirked and said, “No. I got this at a thrift shop.” Ironic t-shirt bites true experience in the ego. I skulked off.

Anyhow, I’ve done some looking into the frozen turkey bombs, as I don’t actually remember the buildings exploding. I’ve come to the conclusion that the frozen turkey drop was a rumor started from someone making a knowing joke against those “crazy animal rights people,” though it may also be some kind of permutation from this scene from WKRP in Cincinnati:

I did some more reading and found the following on Wikipedia concerning the Turkey Trot:

One of the longest traditions in Yellville is the annual Turkey Trot festival. Beginning in 1945 with the first turkey dropped from the roof of the Marion County Courthouse, the festival continues today. It is held every second weekend of October with the best-known attraction being live turkeys that are dropped from airplanes over the town square. October 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of this festival. The 1970s television show, WKRP in Cincinnati, parodied the turkey drop on one of their best-known episodes. Yellville and the Turkey Trot Festival were also included in the American supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer in 1989 with photographs of the festival and commentary on animal cruelty. Due to the bad press, the turkey drop ceased for a few years. It has since resumed. The Turkey Trot festival also includes a Miss Turkey Trot Pageant, a Miss Drumstickz Competition (best legs), dinners, musical entertainment, a 5 kilometer run, a parade (which has included former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and a nationally recognized turkey calling contest sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Crafts and tools related to the hunting of wild turkeys are also sold in streetside booths along the town square. Entertainment at Turkey Trot has ranged in recent years from famous acts like John Conlee singer of “Rose Colored Glasses” and Jeannie Kendall from the Grammy-award winning group The Kendalls, to more local entertainment by area groups such as The Muddles, Joe Sasser and Friends, and Carnes McCormack.

Joe Sasser was my 6th grade teacher and taught me a song I love to sing called “Down in the Arkansas.” I found a clip of an old timer singing the song with verses that I didn’t know before. Click here to listen.

7 Responses to “Turkey Trot”

  1. Evonne Says:

    You know, we have lived around here for almost 24 years and we have yet to go to Turkey Trot. Maybe this year.

  2. Dave Says:

    Geez, that does sound kind of mean to the turkeys. it also sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

  3. Dave Says:

    Hmm. My last comment didn’t show up. Testing 1 2 …

  4. Little Mary Says:

    well thank God for wikipedia.

  5. sheepdays Says:

    A little apology for not blogging very much lately. I’ll try to get with the program.

    Evonne, you should definitely go. When I was a kid, I would always get a hot cider in the morning to warm up and then get a frito pie later. Don’t know if I could take the frito pie now.

    Dave, extremely fun. I’m guessing the turkeys don’t love it, but they do fly a little and seem ok when they land.

    LM, can you believe that my own dear wife accused me of going on Wikipedia, writing this entry, and then using my own wiki-entry as proof that the Turkey Trot is real?

  6. That’s my favorite clip from WKRP. Can’t imagine it really happening.


  7. Kryna Says:

    yeah, I have to tell people about that too! They all love it.

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